Watch.

Luke 12:32-40 

32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 

Watchful Servants

35 “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36 be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. 

39 “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he[a] would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” 

As we’ve discussed, the gospels say a lot about the Kingdom of God, or God’s Presence. It is in our midst, its embodiment is deep and abiding relationship with ourselves, one another, with and through God. In so many ways, we cannot see or hear the Kingdom if we are not striving for authentic relationship with each other, ourselves, and God. It’s all one thread that weaves throughout life. 

This morning, our text says that God is giving us God’s Presence, this is our treasure if you will. 

Now, when I see that word treasure, I think of maps with an “X” on them marking a treasure chest.

As a kid, I would romp around on our family’s property.  We had about 7 acres and 4 of those acres were woods…our property also was connected to my Uncle’s property, which was also about 7 acres.  Beyond that, we had probably dozens, if not hundreds of acres around us with woods, streams, hills, and even small lakes.  Our neighbors were also pretty friendly, so adventuring throughout the woods was like an escape into a kid’s imagination with pirates, Robin Hood, and so many other stories made up.  

Also, in those woods, my dad would host our church’s youth group in the fall every year.  We’d have a big hayride that would end up in a clearing in those woods with a huge bonfire where we’d sing songs, cook hot dogs and marshmallows, and play games on the edges, in the dark…but, that bonfire always called us back towards seeing one another and give us a sense of presence…magical nights!

Later, as an adult, I enjoyed going through those woods, not only remembering, but finding other treasures as those woods kept on pulling me in.  I had to have a watchful eye, ear, and open heart to receive the gifts of those woods. 

God’s Kingdom, our treasure, the Presence of God…keeps on pulling us in towards new treasures within and without…it’s in our midst, all around us, pulling us towards each other and God…finding the gift of the joy of being connected with each other and God’s purposes in our lives together and with God.  But, again, we have to be on the watch to see that treasure.  

And, God’s Kingdom, our treasure, is about putting material possessions in their proper place, which is a place of not holding on too tightly. 

As we talked about in previous weeks, we can’t take our material possessions with us, and that’s not God’s economy or measurement of wealth. God values relationship, that’s what gives the energy for creating, saving, sustaining…that’s the treasure. 

So many times, we hold on to material treasure, but Jesus is saying that we are called to share it, to be give it away. To bless the poor and one another. Why? Well, certainly to meet needs, but also to empty ourselves of possessions that keep us separated from one another. It’s also meant to say that if we bless others, take care of them as best we can, we can then have the joy of entering into relationship with them. 

God’s kingdom treasure is about taking away barriers that may keep us from embracing others, ourselves, and God. God’s Kingdom treasure has much more to do with our becoming fully human as we were created to be in the first place. 

When we are able to love and share freely with others, to move from transactional relationships to truly transformational relationships, we experience joy and purpose. When we invest in others, that is a deposit of treasure that cannot be destroyed. However, as our scripture says, we can let thieves in that steal away that joy…we listen to voices that are divisive, mean spirited, anxious, and lead us towards a sense of deep selfishness and even a loss of self. 

Jesus tells us this morning to take stock on where our treasure lies…if it is with things that pull us apart, then we will be fragmented and produce nothing good and cause us to be in states of deep separation from one another, but if it’s on the Kingdom of God, then it will bring unity, peace, and bear good fruit that blesses others. 

We must be on watch for the Kingdom of God in our midst. God’s desire is to give us God’s self, it brings God pleasure to be with us. We are given purses that don’t wear out… God’s presence is with us, holding us in tension and in beautiful ways. 

We are called to be aware of God’s presence around us, to keep our lamps lit in the darkness in order to recognize when God, the master of the banquet laid out before us arrives. This master is hosting an amazing gathering for us, wanting us to have glimpses of love and grace…wanting us to be awake, alive to the wonderful work of becoming more human in the way of Jesus. 

Jesus also warns us to be on the watch for the leaven of the Pharisees, the substance that they want to give us, the substance of control and scarcity, leads us to a misunderstanding of God’s purpose. God does not simply desire piety from us, God desires live, abundant life. The leaven that God offers fills us, nourishes us, makes us come alive. There is a thief that comes to steal from us the fullness of God’s presence in our lives, God’s joy and revelry in who we are in our humanity, yet Jesus comes to make us aware and to live in the present moment with God and others. 
In this parable, there are three things to be aware of: 

  1. The master provides for this who have eyes to see, who have been faithful with keeping their lamps lit…those who want to see. 
  2. Jesus calls us to be vigilant. 
  3. Jesus wants to reveal to us the nature of what it means to be truly human as God
    intended.

Friends, let us keep watch for God’s actions on our behalf through Jesus, let us see that God’s leaven is Jesus…and Jesus’ body, Jesus’ life nourishes us…let us also remember that Jesus poured life into us, giving us the courage to live as the truest humans we can be…it takes time and practice, but this action reminds us of Jesus’ coming to us to call us into being the people we were created to be, the people we’ve always wanted to be

Leadership.

Luke 5:1-11

Jesus Calls the First Disciples

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” 11 When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

Our last value that our elemental leadership team came to was “Leadership” and how to develop leaders.

I’ve used this gospel lesson before, I’ve even talked about my dad wanting me to be as passional about fishing as we was.  I grew to enjoy it a bit, but never was like him in his love for it.

But, this gospel lesson has some great things about leadership.  You see, even though I wasn’t a fisherman, I did grow in my understanding of who I am…and I still am growing.  And, one thing about my dad, he was authentic, and I think I share that authenticity.  

It’s fascinating to me that all of the values that we have come up with as a church:  authenticity, partnerships, diversity, spiritual gifts, and leadership are all interconnected and feed off of each other.  

What causes them to grow is a deep sense of leadership within each of us.  We may be sitting here thinking we are not leaders, but we are.  All of us.  That leadership starts when we sense a spark within us.  A longing being met by a moment in our lives.  This is true for us individually, and collectively as a church.

In my doctoral project that has now begun, we met last week and talked about forming community and that it starts with the speed of trust.  This group of church and community folk gave over trust to one another from the beginning, but as we’ve shared, have been vulnerable, that trust is growing and we are seeing gifts within each other.  And, we are seeing leadership within our group arise…within all of us.  I may be the convener of this group, but I’m also being present and leading and following in so many ways.  I am also a co-learner in this process and it’s leading me, and others, towards growth.  

That’s what Jesus is doing in this morning’s gospel lesson…and Peter is following his lead, giving him some trust.  

Let’s look at this passage a bit.  We find Jesus right after the story where Jesus was preaching in his hometown of Nazareth and the folks wanted throw him off a cliff that we read last week.  He is at a lake and there are so many people crowding around him to hear him that he gets into a boat and pulls out on the water so he can speak.

When he’s done, he tells Simon, later to known as Peter, to throw down their nets again in deep water.  

Peter protests, he was a good fisherman.  

They grew up around it, it gave them fellowship, a source of income, and they were good at it.  

They had fished all night.  They knew the right places, they had the right technique, they had the correct bait to attract fish, yet, they caught nothing.  All night, nothing.  

I’m sure they are thinking, how would that help?  We know these waters, we know how to fish…moving our nets a few feel won’t do anything.  Yet, they had fished all night with no results.  They were doing what they always did which got them something in times past, but nothing on this day.

So, they take a risk, trust this guy on the beach, and throw their nets out again.  What happens?  They trusted, had some faith, and they caught more fish than ever before!  

Friends, this passage can speak to us in our personal lives and in lives together as .  There may be things that we’ve done for a long time in our lives that simply are not working anymore, we need a fresh perspective, maybe we need to put our nets somewhere else.  We all need to have a deeper trust in the Divine.  We certainly need to slow down, and listen to the voice of God calling us to put our nets out again…and to trust.  

And, fishers of humans?  That simply means that we are called to connect, to love, and to build genuine friendships…but it starts with trusting ourselves, others, and God’s prompting.   Leadership starts with trusting and then hearing the call deep within.  

As we do this, we will find ourselves in the midst of conversion.  Conversion is a lifelong process.  The Benedictine monks got it, they would pray for Stability, Obedience, and Conversion daily.  It’s interesting to me that Benedictine monks have been models of leadership for centuries.  A key element of that leadership is listening, I read this about the Benedictine rule of obedience this week, check this out:

I’ve often marveled, that the first word of The Rule of St. Benedict isn’t pray, worship, or even love. It’s listen. This small, unobtrusive word speaks in a whisper. To anyone who studies Benedictine spirituality, the phrase listen . . . with the ear of the heart becomes so familiar we can easily lose sight of how revolutionary it is. Listening in the Benedictine sense is not a passive mission. Benedict [c. 480–547] tells us we must attend to listening. In some translations of The Rule, we are to actively incline ourselves toward it, and nurture it in our everyday activities. Listening is an act of will. . . .

Listening cracks open the door to another Benedictine concept from which most of us would rather run,—that of obedience. . . . Obedience comes from the Latin, oboedire, to give ear, to harken, to listen. The Benedictine writer Esther de Waal says that obedience moves us from our “contemporary obsession with the self,” [or I would ‘ego’’] and inclines us toward others. . . . . [St. Benedict] moves beyond the common understanding of the word as solely an authoritarian, top-down dynamic. He stresses instead mutual obedience, a horizontal relationship where careful listening and consideration is due to each member of the community from each member, as brothers and sisters. It is by this way of obedience, he says, that we go to God.

This church, our lives, we are in the midst of conversion.  All of us, myself included, are moving towards new chapters in our lives.  That is good news for me, for us, and for all of those around us.  This conversion starts with listening, true listening…which leads us towards trust, towards faith, and towards leadership 

Jesus’ call to Peter, and to us, is to trust what he sees in us.  Jesus sees you and me.  God’s Spirit dwells within Jesus and within us and is calling us towards using our gifts to lead, to take some risks, to trust.  Now, it’s unusual in those days for a rabbi as Jesus was to call his followers to follow him.  We often don’t see the gifts that we have, but Jesus does and is calling us to use them to build relationships with ourselves and others.  Jesus sees Peter and the future disciples fishing and tells them to follow him and become fishers of men.  He doesn’t tell them to form a study, a committee, or go to seminary, he tells them to simply do something they understand.  Fish.  But, to go after others, to pursue friendships with others and include them into community.

Saying Yes to Jesus can be crazy, adventurous, and overwhelming…sometimes heeding God’s call on and in our lives may take us into dark places…but, we are not alone.  Our identity as Christians is simply a follower of Jesus….and Jesus followers are willing to trust and take risk.  Friends, this world is crying out for those of us who claim to be Jesus followers to hear the call on our lives to follow the depths of our heart as deep calls into deep…as God calls into God’s self residing within us to come forth out of the tomb of death that the systems of this world want us to stay in…calling us to new life, true life, our true selves.

Spiritual Gifts.

1 Corinthians 12:4-31

Now there are varieties of gifts but the same Spirit, and there are varieties of services but the same Lord, and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of powerful deeds, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

One Body with Many Members

12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many members yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect, 24 whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25 that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work powerful deeds? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.

Our fourth value that our Elemental Leadership team came up with in our process was “spiritual gifts”.  We are called to bring God’s Spirit, God’s gifts, into all that we do and are.  

First of all, everything in life is gift, really…we don’t really earn much, life is given to us…it’s all in how we use those gifts and allow them to grow…we know thought that there are folks who use their gifts for malice…look at Russia’s war on Ukraine, look at systems that keep most of the world in poverty, look at gun violence and those who yield weapons of war for destruction on innocent victims, and look at some of our own politicians who grift off of our taxes that are supposed to be used for the common good.

Yet, we are Kingdom people, called to see our gifts as something to be used for the common good.  As we’ve discussed, the gospels say a lot about the Kingdom of God, or God’s Presence.  It is in our midst, its embodiment is deep and abiding relationship with ourselves, one another and with and through God.  God’s Spirit, God’s very presence, resides within us, is a gift. In so many ways, we cannot see or hear the Kingdom if we are not striving for authentic relationship with each other, ourselves, and God.  It’s all one thread that weaves throughout life.

As a kid, I would have gifts that were of value to me, things like baseball cards, toy soldiers, a favorite souvenir, or something.  I’d put them in a special place where they’d be safe just in case someone broke into our home.

Later, as an adult, I’d have a safety deposit box, which I still do as many of us do.  In that box, we store things that we value or that we simply want to keep safe as they may be hard to replace.  

Yet, God’s Kingdom, God’s Presence can’t be locked away, it’s in our midst, all around us, pulling us towards each other and God…finding the gift of the joy, as well as the beautiful struggle, of being connected with each other and God’s purposes in our lives together and with God.  

And, on the contrary, God’s Kingdom, God’s Presence, is about putting material possessions in their proper place, which is a place of not holding on too tightly.  

We can’t take our material possessions with us, and that’s not God’s economy or measurement of wealth.  God values relationship, that’s what gives the energy for creating, saving, sustaining…that’s the ultimate gift and that’s eternal

So many times, we hold on to our gifts, but Jesus is saying that we are called to share it, to be give it away.  To bless the poor and one another.  Why?  Well, certainly to meet needs, but also to empty ourselves of possessions that keep us separated from one another.  It’s also meant to say that if we bless others, take care of them as best we can, we can then have the joy of entering into relationship with them.

God’s kingdom gift is about taking away barriers that may keep us from embracing others, ourselves, and God.  God’s Kingdom gift has much more to do with our becoming fully human as we were created to be in the first place.

When we are able to love and share freely with others, to move from transactional relationships to truly transformational relationships, we experience joy and purpose.  When we invest in others, that is a deposit of treasure that cannot be destroyed.  

And, we’ve been given specific gifts to use as a particular part of the body of Christ as our scripture says today.  Gifts that have their place in a larger collective, and when we put them together, learn how to collaborate, watch out!  We find things moving, we find ourselves unified.  

Friends, we are all gifted!!!!  And, we discover those gifts though the power of relationship.  

However, as John 10:10 reminds us, we can let thieves in that steal away that joy…we listen to voices that are divisive, mean spirited, anxious, and lead us towards a sense of deep selfishness and even a loss of self.  

Paul is reminding us that we are all gifted, and that we’ve been given the ultimate gift of connection and communion with ourselves and others through God’s Presence and in our being the body of Christ…if we forget who we are and listen to the voices of the systems of the world, the cult like voices of personalities only concerned with themselves that, those voices that pull us apart, then we will be fragmented and produce nothing good and cause us to be in states of deep separation from one another, but if we remember who we are, gifted persons make in the image of God and living as members of the Kingdom of God, then it will bring unity, peace, and bear good fruit that blesses others.

We must be on watch for the Kingdom of God in our midst.  Let us use our gifts for the common good and not on cultural biases that divide us!  Amen?  

Diversity.

Acts 17:22-28 – 22 Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely spiritual you are in every way. 23 For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. 26 From one ancestor he made all peoples to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27 so that they would search for God and perhaps fumble about for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28 For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said,

‘For we, too, are his offspring.’

Galatians 3:28 – “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Colossians 1:16-17 – “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” 

Revelation 7:9-10 – “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.'”

As I write this sermon, I just finished a day at Ohio State University’s student and family orientation.  (Go Buckeyes!)

It’s fitting to be speaking on diversity this week as I was in the middle of about 500 students and families that were from all walks of life, different ethnicities, and so much amazing energy.  

Later, I would eat dinner at a brewery just a few blocks from where we are staying, and again, as I sat there in their courtyard, people watching as my dad used to do, I was amazing at the brewery workers and clientele…black, white, Asian, Hispanic…preppy folks, tattooed folks, beards, long hair, crew cuts…I even noticed some Christian t-shirts!  

Then, when you look at our zip code, where our church is located, the diversity is amazing, 57% white, 33% black, 8% other…and, the black and other is increasing…especially the other as we look at our Nepali friends moving in to the neighborhood. 

Friends, our church resides in a very diverse neighborhood, in an incredibly diverse world…and I think that makes God’s heart sing.  The variety of peoples, not only ethnically, but with tastes, opinions, beliefs, talents, etc. makes like so interesting.  

God must have an amazing imagination!!!  

I was pleasantly amazed at first when our church’s elemental leadership team picked “diversity” as one of its 5 core values.  But, it makes sense.  We all know that it’s an aspiration of our church to be community engaged…and, even though we may not think much about it, deep down, we want to be diverse.

Our passages this morning speak to diversity and staying curious.  Paul is walking around a foreign city.  He’s Jewish and is in Athens, Greece.  It’s a foreign place to him…yet, he doesn’t put it down, instead he listens, he notices, and he sees and hears God in the marketplace, the gathering place, of Athens.  

As we walk in this neighborhood, engage it in different ways, in all of its diversity, we cannot judge it, we cannot condemn it…and I hope that it doesn’t scare us…I know different can be hard for some of us oftentimes….especially in a constantly changing world…but if we want growth in our lives and in the lives of others, we have to listen and see where God is moving and get behind where the Spirit leads us…actually loves us towards…this will change us, just like it changed Paul.

Paul, and the other disciples, could have just stayed with “their” people, with what they were comfortable with…but God had others plans.  God wanted them to see God’s self in the gentiles, the foreigners, the folks that didn’t look, believe, or act like them.  

Our story with Paul also says that our very being is wrapped up in God.  A God that is diverse and beautiful.

Yet, we are also one in our diversity.  Friends, we have to remember Paul’s other words as well.  God is in all and lives through all…ALL.  We cannot tolerate those systems that are set up to keep us apart…we cannot accept patriarchal misogyny anymore, we cannot tolerate racism, sexism, or elitism….we have to model what Paul is telling us…there is no longer Jew nor Greek, slave or free, male or female, we are all one.  There is no “other”, it is only “we”.  

There will be a day in the next few years where this building will be full of people…diverse people, maybe not as much on a Sunday morning, but throughout the week.  Not just an event like the Ukrainian food festival, but most days…I see our hallways and rooms filled with activity and people that reflect the make up of our community in our future in some form.  In the meantime, before that happens, we have to listen and we have to ask questions.  We are moving in that direction as we speak…in big and small ways.  

Learn to embrace diversity, to look at people and history in a way that reflects curiosity and listening…you’ll be surprised at how much you will grow…and love…and become more like the amazing, diverse, and loving body of Christ.  

Amen?!  

Partnerships.

Jeremiah 29:4-14

4 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. 8 For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let the prophets and the diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to your dreams that you dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, says the Lord.

10 For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11 For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12 Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13 When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, 14 I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.

Philippians 1:3-11

Paul’s Prayer for the Philippians

I thank my God for every remembrance of you, always in every one of my prayers for all of you, praying with joy for your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because I hold you in my heart, for all of you are my partners in God’s grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the tender affection of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10 to help you to determine what really matters, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, 11 having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.    

Philippians 1:27-30

27 Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel 28 and in no way frightened by those opposing you. For them, this is evidence of their destruction but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. 29 For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ but of suffering for him as well, 30 since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.      

The second value that our elemental leadership group came to was the value of partnerships.  We know that we have a congregation rich in talent, we also know that as we mature, we become more humble and know that we want, we need, partners, or friendships willing to collaborate with us so that we can grow in our own lives and the life of the church.

A great illustration of that is the Ukrainian food festival.  There is no way we could have pulled that off by ourselves, even though we have amazing talent in our church and host the best Mett Sausage dinner in America, this was a unique opportunity that landed in our laps, we simply said yes to new friends to use our kitchen and campus for a fundraiser to help Ukraine from a Russian dictator and his military.  

Our church was filled with Ukrainians for a few weeks, and then, on the day of the event, we had around 3500 folks come.  Even though we had probably around 40-50 volunteers from the church, we needed the expertise and the human power of the dozens, even hundreds, of Ukrainians working alongside us, as well as other partners.

Partnering with others helps you to grow, as well as those you partner with.  When I coached cross country, I was always looking to build a team.  

You may think cross country is an individual sport, but when you have a group of folks pulling for each other, knowing where one another is, feeding off each other, then you can propel yourself to the finish line and do well as a team.  When our girls cross country team got past districts as the district runner up and made it to regionals for the first time in Finneytown history, we had a great group of young ladies that ran well together…especially McKenzie Jones and Julie Brueggemeyer.  They became best friends, and still are to this day.  They always knew where one another was on the course on race day and fed off of each other, pushing each other.  They also trained together…they had, and have a bond that is seemingly unbreakable.

Friends, that’s what we are looking for as we partner with others.  True friendship.  Bob and I continue to reach out to Oksana, Jane, Sergii, and Christiana.  

Our passage in Jeremiah this morning tells the story of our need for partnerships.  When our church’s bible study read this, we, like the Jewish folks in exile, may feel like we are in a foreign land at times.  That culture is changing and we often don’t know where we stand.  Yet, God reminds us to be all in where we are, wherever we are.  God told the Jews in exile, in a foreign land, to build houses, grow families, and work towards the benefit of the city.  In other words, partner and work for the common good.  

We are called to do the same today.  To work for the common good of where we have been placed, however we have been placed here.  That involves making genuine, authentic friendships.  

God has a purpose for you, for us.  For this congregation.  Are we willing to trust, to ask questions of God and one another?  To engage our neighbors for their well being?  Not for conversion or just to add another name on the church membership role, but to work towards their benefit?  And, in that process of trust and engagement, of friendship, to allow ourselves to grow and adapt?  

The church that Paul wrote to in Philippi, the Philippians, bound together in an inclusive community that was a blessing to Paul as they partnered with him and with the folks around them.  We sense that in the intro this letter, “I thank my God every time I remember you”.  And notice the word partnership, it is repeated literally a couple of times, but other words are used as well.  Paul felt a deep connection with these folks.  

There’s also the word “righteousness”.  We’ve said this before and it’s worth repeating:  when you see the word “righteous” in the Bible, it’s more about being in right relationship than being “right”.  It’s what Peter Block reminded us of often when we embark on any meaningful work together, it is more important for us to be right or to work together.  

Yes, there is suffering, there is hardship as Paul writes, yet we are not alone in it.  We struggle together and we enter into other’s struggles.  As we do, we know we can work through it together and the struggle brings us closer together.

When I coached my daughter and her friends, I reminded them often that running is a joy, and it’s suffering, together.  It formed a bond and strength within them and so many others.  

Friends, this church understands this, we are willing to suffer, to engage, to build friendships as we merge with the community and find folks willing to partner.  God, residing deep within us and residing deep within this neighborhood is calling us towards one another.  We have amazing partners in this community, and we are strengthening those partnerships even as we speak today…this week and month is full of possibilities and opportunities for our church.  May it be so.  

Authenticity.

Colossians 1:3-8; 3:9-11

Paul Thanks God for the Colossians

In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel that has come to you. Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God. This you learned from Epaphras, our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, and he has made known to us your love in the Spirit.

Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices 10 and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. 11 In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, enslaved and free, but Christ is all and in all!

As we mentioned last week, today we are starting a sermon series for the month of July on the amazing work that our elemental leadership did.  In that work, we came up with a vision of building relationships through the neighborhood, partnerships, and other faith communities.  We also came up with values that are important to our church, these five values are what I’m preaching on for the next 5 Sundays, the month of July.  Those values are:  authenticity, partnerships, diversity, spiritual gifts, and leadership.

The first value is “authenticity”.  Being authentic according to the definition is this:  “the quality of being authentic” and “Put simply, authenticity means you’re true to your own personality, values, and spirit, regardless of the pressure that you’re under to act otherwise. You’re honest with yourself and with others, and you take responsibility for your mistakes.”

What it doesn’t mean is simply “saying it like it is”.  That’s often said by different people when they are trying to defend their opinions.  Being authentic though is deeper, it’s being real with yourself, asking the hard questions, doing the work of letting the Spirit of God that resides deep within each of us to emerge and to allow our true selves to emerge.  

Sometimes that can be very counter cultural.  Just look at Jesus, Jesus came to present what it means to be authentically human, made in God’s image.  That humanity challenged the dehumanizing systems of his day…and continues to challenge the systems we live in today.  That challenge got him killed as it threatened the status quo.

Yet, it also gave birth to the movement that we call the church, calling us to live towards a deep sense of faith, love, hospitality, oneness with all peoples, renewal, and a deep sense that all things and all people are connected and we should get on with loving ourselves and others.

I have met folks like that throughout my life:

My friend Jay Borck who always listened, believed in me in my twenties.  He won so many people over with his authentic, oftentimes quiet, charisma.  You knew he was there for you and you wanted to be there for him.  And, he never judged you.  

My friend Ron Thomas who was my roommate when I lived in Atlanta.  He was pretty conservative in his theology, but always showed a willingness to listen and to have empathy.  He put up with a lot having me as a roommate, but his heart was and is so pure, even as he continues to ask questions in life.  

Sean Gladding is a friend that many of you have met and have now become friends with.  He has been there for me these past several years, listening, never judging, allowing me to be vulnerable even as he is vulnerable with me.  Every time I think of Sean or I’m with him, I feel a deep sense of soul connection.

And then there’s also Dr. Scott Hagley.  Scott has been a friend for several years.  He’s also the one who encouraged me to pursue my doctorate at Pittsburgh Seminary.  He’s in charge of the program I’m in, my doctoral project and thesis first reader, my faculty advisor, and a close friend and confidante.  All along the way he’s been able to simply be himself in all of those roles, his true self, and consequently, it has been a great learning experience.  More than what I could have hoped.  And, I’ve been there for him.

Paul in his letter to Colossians is saying some similar things.  He loves the folks in this church, they have a collective authenticity and he is simply sharing that with them.  He is thankful for them and is giving testimony to their authenticity that is producing fruit.  He even singles out Epaphras, a Colossian, who lived out his humanity with authenticity.  

So, friends, again, we are called to live in authenticity with one another, and with ourselves.  The marks an authentic life:  vulnerability, listening, faith, kindness, connectedness, being real and with, empathy, and loving well.  And, I think that our church is growing tremendously in authenticity as I see those characteristics in each of you individually and collectively, and I thank God for it!

How do we get to deeper authenticity?  Self focus, awareness…and as Mary Lasoncsyk said last week, prayer.  Prayer can clear us up, open us up, to becoming who we want to be…not prayers simply asking for this or that, but sitting in quiet, with ourselves.  John O’Donohue, the great Irish writer, philosopher, poet says this:

“Prayer makes a clearance.  It this liberation of God from our hungers, needs, and images.  Prayer allows God to be God.  And prayer also allows our secret selves to be themselves.  This is a recommendation that Meister Eckhart makes again and again:  be who you are.  This is one of the great spiritual duties.  It touches the crux of our identity.  So many of us are so dragged away from the identity that we are, we are dragged to all kinds of externality.  We are chasing the wind and missing ourself.  A great spiritual axiom is:  sit down, slow down, and to try to be who you are.  If a person could be who they were, they would retain an inner coherence, regardless of the turbulence around them.”

Friends, tomorrow is the 4th of July, a day of freedom…may we become free to be our truest selves as made in the expansive image of God connected to ourselves and one another, in communion if you will, through the power of God’s Presence in us and around us.  

Legions.

Luke 8:26-39

Jesus restores a demon-possessed man

26 They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes,[a] which is across the lake from Galilee. 27 When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. 

28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, ‘What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!’ 29 For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places.

30 Jesus asked him, ‘What is your name?’

‘Legion,’ he replied, because many demons had gone into him. 31 And they begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss.

32 A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs, and he gave them permission.

33 When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

34 When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, 35 and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid.

 36 Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. 37 Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left.

38 The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 ‘Return home and tell how much God has done for you.’ So the man went away and told all over the town how much Jesus had done for him.

When I was a cross country coach, I often tell runners that they have voices that they can listen to when they run. 

When the race or practice gets hard, or it’s snowing and cold, or hot and humid, they may hear voices in their head that say you can’t do this, you aren’t tough enough, you could quit, or go home, sit on the coach in air conditioning, or play video games. Or, they can learn to listen to the voices that tell them that they can do this, that it is worth the work and even the pain at times, that it is producing character, that they can overcome. We call this the “moment of truth”, when you listen to the good voices that will push you through and don’t give in to the voices that leave you in a state that keeps you in a place and not growing. 

Jesus encounters a man who’s been inflicted with thousands of voices that have actually taken control of his life. 

He had so many voices, or personal demons, that when Jesus asked him his name, he said that his name was “legion” meaning “many”, even thousands. I’m not sure how one gets into this state, but it’s safe to say that this man was affected to the point of madness, so much so that his community shunned him and even chained him up. 

Yet, Jesus goes up to him, has compassion on him. It’s also interesting to note that this man was not part of Jesus’ faith or lifestyle. The region where Jesus found this man was a Gentile region and Gentiles were non-believers. It was a foreign land, yet Jesus and his disciples felt compelled to travel there, outside of their comfort zone. 

When Jesus confronts the man, the man has lost his mind, his sense of identity so much, that he doesn’t personally answer, but the demons give voice to Jesus…they know that Jesus is the Son of God…when darkness is confronted, it knows it can’t hide from the light, and it knows that it cannot overcome light. I believe that Jesus was so perfectly human, so aware of himself as God’s son, as the representation of God to humanity and humanity to God, that the darkness was revealed in this possessed man so openly that it could not help but to retreat. 

It’s also important to realize that this man wanted to be healed. As conflicted as he was, as possessed as he was, he knew that he needed to change. It seems like Jesus’ power was best on display when others found within themselves a sense of agency. In other words, Jesus was a co-healer. 

The demons plead with Jesus to be sent into a herd of pigs. Which, is another indicator that Jesus is in a foreign country as pigs were considered unclean by Jewish custom. So, Jesus sends them into the pigs and the pigs go mad and drive themselves off of a cliff. 

This man regains his sense of self, his dignity and senses, and is restored into community. But, the townsfolk are afraid of Jesus, they don’t know how to respond to this amazing act of love and power over the darkness of the possessed man’s life. Or, maybe they are afraid that this Jesus and his presence will cost them more economically, as the herd of pigs was an economic loss. Faced with fear, economic instability, and the presence of a change agent like Jesus, they plead for Jesus to leave. Which, Jesus does. As he’s leaving, the formerly possessed man asks to go with Jesus, yet Jesus tells him to stay, to find his voice more clearly now that all of the other voices are gone, and to love his neighbors and proclaim to them what God has done. 

We don’t know this man’s name, it’s not in this passage, and we don’t know what happens. But, my bet is that this region saw and experienced this Jesus and continued to see evidence of this man’s growth and release from what enslaved him. 

The power of a changed life can change the world!

I know that’s true in my life, your life, and our lives together. What voices are we listening to? What fears do we have that prevent us from following Jesus or keeps us away from walking with Jesus? How do we ask Jesus to leave us alone when faced with change in our lives, even if we know we need it or we see others’ lives changed through their awareness of God, self, and others through Jesus? 

What would it take for us to let go of the voices that keep us enslaved to the way we’ve always done things or lived…voices that are keeping us from living the way that we’ve always wanted to live and growing in new ways as humans made in God’s image, infused with God’s dynamic spirit that moves us towards the kind of lives that bring adventure, meaning, purpose, and growth? 

A few years ago, I had coffee with my good friend Peter Block as I often do…even just a few weeks ago.  Peter is a voice that I love to listen to…he speaks into my life and allows me to speak into his. We are in community together, we practice “church” if you will in many ways. As we were talking, he began to encourage me, as he does so often. One of the things that he spoke into my life this week was reminding me that I have a powerful voice and finding that voice consistently is good work…it’s good work for all of us. Not only finding our particular voice, but how it fits into community and being in a community that can find its collective voice. That voice can shape mountains, experience and share love. Voice is powerful when there is no agenda other than seeing relationships and community restored or created. 

God’s voice, God’s word, brought forth creation.
God’s voice or God’s word, became flesh and gave us Jesus. 

God’s voice, God’s word, is carried to us through the flow of God’s spirit all around us, in us, through us, to us. 

I have not given out homework much lately, but here’s homework this week, take inventory daily. Listen to yourself, others, and the messages being sent to you through social media, news media, or whatever. What voices are you hearing or listening to. Write them down. Then ask yourself, where are you hearing God’s voice. 

Are we willing to listen to God’s voice as it pushes through all of the other voices in our lives, leading us to freedom and reminding us that we have a powerful voice, that we are loved, that we are made for each other and to be a part of a community together proclaiming to each other God’s love? Not petty issues or pride or insecurities that keep us away from each other, but living together listening to God’s voice emerge within us and through us together? May it be so! 

Name.

New Testament Readings  

John 14:8-17

Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 

11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

The Promise of the Holy Spirit

15 ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

John 14:25-27

25 ‘I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

This week, in the common lectionary, we are still working in the last discourse that Jesus gave after the Last Supper and before he went to the cross…and the importance of the Spirit of God, the very presence of God, that continues to reveal to us the relational nature of God… 

Jesus is encouraging the disciples even as Phillip is asking to see the Father.  Jesus goes on to remind him, and the others, AGAIN, that he is one with the father.  And, that even if the relationship is sometimes unseen, Jesus reminds them of all of the things they have done, and that God has done through him.  And, that he believes in them and that they will do even greater things.  

I can somewhat relate to this when my grandfather died. We were really close, he believed in me. It’s been 15-20 years since he died, but I still feel his presence. There’s something more.  And my grandfather believed through his belief in me, that I would do great things in my life.  I feel that sometimes with my own kids…it’s pretty wild.  There is a connection that is still there with my grandpa, and with others, and with you…that connection is still felt with Jesus as well.  

Now, this presence pales in comparison to what I’ve experienced with Jesus, similar, but with Jesus it’s even more present within my body, within my friendships, and within the space between us. Teilhard calls this the cosmic Christ, that Christ not only lived and walked the earth, but is with us, everywhere with everyone and everything, right now. 

Notice that Jesus doesn’t say that there won’t be any problems in this passage…that life would be perfect and everything is going to be OK. No, he simply promises that he won’t leave us, that he’ll be with us in the midst of life’s throes. 

I spend a lot of time checking in with folks who are going through some hard times. Maybe they are sick, or have had a break in a relationship, or are struggling with various issues. I can’t, with integrity, say that their situations will work out, I don’t know. But, I can say that they are not alone, that there is a Presence, a sense of God’s love all around them and I pray for awareness of God’s Presence. I believe that the greatest gift and struggle that we have as Jesus followers, as humans, is the work of becoming of self, others, and God aware. Of moving past our small egos and moving into a global ego, a sense of deep connection with ourselves, others, and God’s movement and shaping. 

We are not alone in this work, God is with us, reminding us that we can see God…often in the small things.  And to “abide” in God.  Abide is a great word.  It means to remain, to live, to be present with what is happening.  

Jesus gives the pronouncement that he won’t be able to be seen by the world, but his followers will see him as they abide in him through his Presence, the Spirit of God. That’s an interesting thought. We’ve prayed for eyes to see and ears to hear God’s movement in our world. I strongly believe that all of humanity is being shaped and formed by God’s movement, that God is with all of us in the most intimate way. God is closer than the air we breathe. Yet, we don’t often recognize God, or sometimes we even deny that God could even exist. The idea of a loving God can scare us. Love transforms, it changes us. Yet, we are comfortable with what we think we know. 

Jesus goes on to say that because he lives, because he loved and continues to love, we will all someday see that we find our being in community, in relationship with God. 

This concept of being “in” relationship with God and with others starts with an understanding that God’s very nature is communal relationship. You can go through all sorts of head knowledge of God, but if we go deep within ourselves, whether we are extroverts or introverts, we are wired for relationship. Science affirms this concept, at the very root of how we are formed, with atoms, protons, neutrons, quarks, etc., there is an understanding that energy is created for atoms to form through attraction, through relationship. 

Our understanding of God as three in one, as Trinity, gives witness to relationships. God as father, son, holy spirit are so close that they are one. The outcome of their energy together is creating, saving, and sustaining relationship based on love. It is not static, it is dynamic. 

This love moves us, gives us energy. We are drawn to it like an atom is drawn together to form something. As a seminary professor at Fuller once told me, we can say no to God, but what if God says no to our no? There is a flow that is creating and shaping us, and that flow is relational, and it is marked by love. We can go on resisting it, or we can obey that desire to love and let it reveal itself to us. 

This love may move us towards a personal understanding of God’s love for us, but it also moves us eventually in an evolutionary way towards an understanding that God’s love is for everyone and is not so small minded or ego-centric on just us, but all of us. 

As we begin to allow God’s love to pour into us and through us to others, we begin to understand that we are connected to an expansive God. We begin to see faith as not being right, not living in a black and white world, but understanding that living in mystery and curiosity, living in a willingness to let go of our control, our vision, and letting God expand our horizons and understanding of the global Christ project by being locally rooted in community, we begin to experience a deepening of ourselves, a joy in things unseen but lived out. 

God’s Spirit is called Advocate, God advocates for us. God has made God’s home with us, and is in our corner. Not in our corner to meet our selfish needs, but to say to us that we are not alone, that God sees a better “us” and is calling us into growth through awareness. This Advocate, this Presence, God’s Spirit, is a counselor for us, reminds us of God’s story with us, and goes with us. 

God’s Spirit is a gift, but just like any gift, we need to open it, see it, experience it. A good place to start is to work towards authentic community with others, to honor them, to work towards awareness by slowing down and taking time each day to reflect, pray, journal. By unplugging and going on a retreat to a quiet place. 

As we do that, we will begin to see that God is in us, and we find our being in God. This being will move us in ways we don’t always expect. Look at the early disciples that are describe in Acts. They experience the Spirit, it’s like a flame that’s burning, uncontrollable, yet warms them and moves them to change the world. They moved out of their closed doors, they were not afraid, and they found peace in trusting that God’s Spirit was with them and leading them.  May it be so for us. 

Unity.

John 17:20-26

20 “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be one in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one,23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24 Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

25 “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

Sermon:

Our gospel lesson this morning is one of my favorite passages.  I preached on it when I was going before the Presbytery for my examination before ordination in the PCUSA.  

The day before, I went rock climbing with one of my best friends, Mike Zimmer, whom many of you have met and who’s family we’ve prayed for in the past.  I wanted to go climbing, partly to relax and take my mind off of the thought of preaching before a couple hundred folks at Presbytery and then having them ask me questions, but also to ask Mike his take on this passage.

Mike is a great thinker, he doesn’t identify as a churchgoer or particularly religious, but he understands God’s Spirit and desire for humanity to be together better than most.  In between hanging off of 60 foot cliffs, some where I wasn’t feeling so close to Mike as he was taking me on some crazy climbs, but we also had great moments of deep sharing and questioning.  

At the Presbytery examination, I went into it with a confidence of the my friend’s encouragement and “with-you-in-life” presence.  Mike even came.  

It went well.  The presentation made sense, a couple of questions were asked, then the Presbytery voted unanimously to ordain me as a minister.  Honestly, a similar experience was when I was approved for dual standing with the UCC.  There was a sense of oneness in that moment. 

Now, granted, I’ve been in the presbytery for a while, and now the UCC for several years as well, and I have had great friendships in both over the years, it goest to show that God works through all sorts of folks and different bodies.  Those folks and those bodies often don’t seem to be unified, but at certain moments, you sense a togetherness that gives witness to a deeper relational reality at work.

There was a similar sense of that oneness in our meeting last Saturday with the elemental church leadership team here at Fleming Road UCC.  A cross section of our church membership, all with with different thoughts and opinions, yet there was a sense of oneness and of mutual presence with each other.  

Jesus in this passage is getting ready to go to the cross, he is praying not only for his disciples, but for all of those who will come after him.  Jesus has been glorified by his humanity, which is God’s glory, God’s making us in God’s image.  Jesus is the truest human and we share in Jesus’ humanity.  

Jesus is also praying that our humanity, our glory has been given to us by Jesus.   A key part of this glory is also Jesus’ demonstration of true humanity in how he loves other and models sacrificial love.  Jesus is saying that he, and the humanity that he represents, our best versions of ourselves, came out of love before creation came into existence, that he is the expression of all that God intends for humanity in our actions, attitudes and self/others/God awareness.   It’s also important to know that God’s glory is wrapped up in our own glory as humanity…when we are being fully aware of our ourselves, others, and the divine touch that brings us together, God is glorified!

Now, we cannot do that on our own.  We need God and each other.  We are called to unity with one another, not conformity, but a deeper bond.  Jesus’ bond with the father as demonstrated in this passage is so tight, they are one.  We are called to be one and called to enter into the glory of God’s intent for us by recognizing our true humanity through Jesus abiding or living within each of us.  That common identity draws us out of ourselves, out of our self-focus with a small “s” and growth as persons.  It also reminds us that our unity is a mark of what it means to be the church…our unity, our witness to a deeper bond in our humanity, our desire for growth out of love, will show the world that there is a different force at work that is more powerful than control, fear, or violence.  

Jesus goes on in his prayer to remind us that this love will always be with us, that Jesus does not give up on us.  That Jesus is always with us, living in us, working on us, whether we recognize it or not.

I cannot fully understand this unity, and I know it’s much deeper than anything I can do on my own.  Yet, as a parent and as a friend, I can catch glimpses of it sometimes.  God is described as a righteous father.  We get wrapped up in this term a lot, is God male or female..well, God is both and also neither.  In scripture, God is both referred to in the feminine and in the masculine.  God transcends gender even as God identifies in both genders.  God is found in all things, in all people.  This is more a term of relationship, of connectedness.  God is also saying that the love of a father, or of a parent, can run deep.  The term father even is an attempt by the early Jews to denote a deep sense of relationship. 

We know that righteousness is a relational term, it means more than dotting I’s or cross t’s, or following the letter of the law.  It means being a true friend, of working together, creating together, journeying together and honoring one another.   

Another word for this oneness is simply communion. In this world where we have a dearth of leadership, even anti-leaders if you will, folks in position of power who want to divide for political gain rather than unite for the gain of humanity.  But, not so with us.  As Jesus Followers, we are called towards peace, towards unity, and towards being in authentic community with one another and to bring reconciliation to the world.  Yet, it can also be a deep relationship that transcends hardships and shows a deep sense of commitment and even trust.

As Jesus Followers, we are called to be a witness to one another out of this deep sense of friendship, of relationships.  As a church that can be our legacy for folks, even as we move towards a deeper and new place as a church.  Relationships matter, and as they are defined by love, they can shape and form us in beautiful ways.

And that is good news!

Great.

John 14:23-29

23 Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words, and the word that you hear is not mine but is from the Father who sent me.

25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. 

28 You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. 29 And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur you may believe.

Love.  We talked about that last week didn’t we?  We also talked about God’s love that resides within and without, all around us…how we are called to love and how hard it is to do that.  I know this past week, there were several times I could point out that I simply wasn’t living into love very well…especially as I was packing three cars of stuff from Oxford to Cincinnati after my daughter’s graduation from college and need to move home until she moves to Nashville!  

In my journal and in my daily readings and meditations, I am reminded that love is always there though…and that I do have access to it as I practice presence with myself and others.  

Our passage this morning is in response to Judas by Jesus.  Judas (not Judas Iscariot..different Judas) is wanting to know why Jesus has revealed himself to the disciples, and not to the rest of the world.

Jesus responds by saying that love is the key.  And, it starts with loving yourself.  We’ve talked about what it means to live in Christ, to live as your “true self”, to be present with yourself that leads to presence with others.  Loving others starts with loving yourself.  That’s not being selfish, it’s knowing that love resides in you…that it’s often found in the darkness and the suffering we experience because that causes a break within us for love to emerge.  It’s also realizing that love, true self, presence are all terms for the Divine, for God.  And God sees God’s self in all of us, each of us!  That is communion friends!  And, eventually, it does lead to peace.  We want to be at peace with the love that resides within and without.  As that love emerges, as we embrace and cultivate it, a deeper peace does arise within us.  

We oftentimes try to deny that love, but God doesn’t.  God remains faithful because God is an intimate indwelling in humanity and God cannot deny God’s self in us…2 Timothy 2:13 says this:

if we are faithless, God remains faithful—
God cannot deny himself.

Jesus goes on to say that we have the Divine Presence, the very spirit or soul of God given to us.   

In Greek, the word is Pneuma, in Hebrew, its ruach.  It means, wind, spirit, breath.  It’s Presence.  We’ve said this before, but this Spirit, wind, breath of God is everywhere.  It sustains life, it carries life, it reveals the work of God through creating life, and through the work of Jesus of saving life and redeeming it.

A few years ago, I walked into Ludllow Wines where my friend Mike is the owner.  On this day, we had a most wonderful conversation.   In that conversation, I found out that he’s Greek Orthodox.  We also talked a bit about the beauty of that language.  The greek word for “advocate” in this morning’s passage in John is beautiful.  Greek words often have many different meanings.  The word for advocate in Greek is “paraclete”.  It means to come alongside, to help, to counsel.  We are co-creating the experience of love for self and neighbor with God.  

Jesus knew that death was approaching.  Jesus also hoped and understood that death needed to happen before resurrection.  It’s a mystery, in theology, we often call it the Paschal mystery.  God died on Good Friday.  All was lost.  God had to experience everything we do, the violence, being humiliated and betrayed…as well as being the humiliator and the betrayer.  God had to experience loss and death.  

When all is lost, when nothing is certain.  That’s when faith comes alive, real.  We don’t understand it, but somehow resurrection happened.  And, not as we have been told in Sunday school most of our lives.  It is a wounded resurrection.  A Jesus, and a God, a universe, that has changed by being wounded.  The scars are still there, yet healed and given new meaning.  

2000 years later, we don’t always have faith.  Even as we see it written out scripture.  Jesus also knew that we would need to stay connected to each other and to him.  That’s the way the Spirit works, it comes alongside, it advocates for us, it helps us to see things about ourselves, others, and God that may not make sense at times, but always seems to work out for the good eventually.  It also reminds us that we are not alone, that the very power of God, the deep love of God that is radically inclusive of all of us in this room and outside these doors and windows, presides within us and all around us.

This spirit, as we cultivate our awareness of God and ourselves emboldens us and gives us confidence as it did the disciples.  Even when all is lost, love still wins.  

This passage reminds us that Jesus and God are one, and that God is one with us, in all things, in all of life.  In that oneness, Jesus says the Father is greater.  Well, end the Trinity, in that oneness, the Father would say Jesus is also great, and that, we, humans, in our mutual love and suffering and joy…our communion, we are great as well.  It’s that glory thing….God’s glory is humanity being fully alive, and together as one.   I’ll end with the lyrics of this song by Bono, lead singer of U2 that sums it up:

One love
One blood
One life
You got to do what you should
One life
With each other
Sisters
Brothers
One life
But we’re not the same
We get to 
Carry each other
Carry each other
One…life

One